Move over Mom!

Welcome to Move Over Mom, the cool, young, hip part of the blog!  You will all know me as photostylist extraordinaire and creative director for the blog, but every so often I will become so enraged, so excited, so intrigued by something, that I just have to butt in!  This time, its an annoyance – knitting photos.  Bad knitting photos.  Some of them so bad I want to run screaming out of the room.  The main annoying thing about them is that they’re bad photos of good knitting.  And so!  I present to you:

Emma’s Top 6 Dos and Don’ts for Knitting Photography

1 – Wear the Sweater

If I had a nickel for every time I saw a photo of a knitted garment lying on some poor piece of unsuspecting carpet, I’d be a rich woman.  There was a reason you knit the sweater, and that’s because you wanted to wear it – not the floor.  We all know from many, many, many unhappy visits to clothing stores, that things just don’t look the same when you actually put them on and, well, the same applies to the hand knit.  No one can tell how beautifully it looks on you, how perfectly it fits, or how fabulously the colour suits you if you aren’t wearing it!  And the carpet…  Oh, my dear readers, I hate to tell you but the carpet is not your friend.  The shade of the carpet will never match, and the texture of the carpet will take away from the detail of your meticulous stitches.  Carpets have dirt and dust in them, and there is simply too much going on; it will confuse your camera.  The camera will often try to compensate to get the best possible picture of everything combined, when really, all you care about is your knitting.

If you really can’t wear it, as is the case with many wips (or if you made the garment for someone else and can’t photograph them in it), try to place your knitting on surfaces with colours that compliment the knitting, and avoid black backgrounds (wearing black clothes is a different matter!).  The layout is all about balance – if your knitting is made out of heavily textured yarn and/or has a complex stitch pattern, then try and get a relatively smooth surface to photograph on; the same applies vice versa.  Colour is almost the opposite; if it has strong jewel tone colours, put it on a background that has a bit of depth to it.  My favourite example of this is Mom’s Urmolu (ravelry link) sweater (pre-blog, but a Wearability Wednesday should be coming up soon hint hint wink wink!) which is photographed against simple stone pavement.  The variegated greys really showed off the blue, purple and gold in the best light!  Likewise, if your knitting is a softer tone, put it against a plain(ish) background; you want a colour that compliments the softness of the knitting but doesn’t overpower it – I think dull wood and/or grass lend themselves particularly well to this.

If your knitting has multiple colours, put it on a background with one of the lesser used colours – it will bring it to the foreground!  If you look at our Peerie Flooers photos, the final photos are of the hat with a sweater of a similar texture and colour to the main body of the hat, and in front of a dark green hedge.  Since the majority of the focal objects are in the same blue, the blue in the hat fades away a bit and makes the red stand out.  The green in the background highlights the green accents in the hat as well; in these non-close-up shots, you are far less likely to notice the yellow in the hat.  In the wip photos in front of the yellow and red autumn leaves however, the red and yellow colours in the hat really pop.  Before you take your photos, always think about which colours you want to accentuate and plan accordingly.

2 – Light

Light is, without a doubt, one of the most important factors in photographing anything, not just knitting.  When taking photographs of knitting, you shouldn’t be inconsistent with light from photo to photo.  You want to give a good idea of what the yarn and shaping look like and if the lighting is all over the place, the ‘big picture’ won’t make sense.  For best results, always take your photographs outside in clear, bright but overcast weather.  Sounds strange I know, but the direct sunlight will make it harder to distinguish between the colours on-screen, all of them seeming over-bright and saturated (a huge problem we encountered while photographing in the desert!).  No using the cold as an excuse though!  You wouldn’t believe how many times mom and I have rushed outside in below freezing weather to do a two minute photo-shoot.  If we don’t get the shot, we go back out and do it again.  Light really is the make or break factor.

If your knitting is multicoloured, it usually responds better to lower levels of light.  If you look at some of the Brick photos, you will see that in the brighter photos, it is much harder to distinguish between the different reds and pinks (and if you still can, I take that as the highest of compliments to my photography skills!)  Knitting that has one colour but interesting stitch patterns, can usually do with a bit more light as a slight shadow will showcase the stitch pattern.  Think Carnaby –  that photo is actually pretty bright, but the contrast between the brightness on the buttons and the top of the skirt vs the bottom of the skirt, give the colour of the yarn some depth, as well as making the pattern stand out.  Again, balance is required; lighter knits should be photographed in slightly darker conditions than darker knits, which is common sense.

3 – The Dreaded Bathroom Shot

If there were ever a shot to get me really annoyed, this would be it.  Ladies and gentlemen, this photo does absolutely nothing  for you, or your knitting.  This applies mainly to photographs of sweaters, but, nonetheless, we are all familiar with this shot: someone is standing in front of the bathroom mirror (occasionally with a toilet in the background) with one arm up, holding a camera in front of their face.  Delightful.  There are multiple issues with this format of photo, I am going to list 3 of the most offending.

1. The Position.  The one arm up, elbow out, back either hunched or hyper-extended, creates a few issues, but mainly it dramatically distorts the sweater!  The ‘camera arm’ will cause the shoulder shaping to look badly done and will tug the underarm out at an awkward angle.  Lifting that arm will also cause that whole side of the sweater to rise which pulls the waist shaping out of place making the sweater appear lopsided.  The angle will also make the hem line appear uneven, which is something many people notice right away and is often indicative of sloppy or less-experienced knitting if the sweater is straight.  The position of the back will contort the top half of the sweater, making it appear either too tight or too loose.  In short, it really messes with the fit of the sweater.  Another thing to note is that most photographs are taken from slightly below eye level, as if the camera is at someone else’s eye level (which has the added bonus of making you seem taller).  In these photos the camera is usually held slightly above eye level which feels awkward when viewing the photo, but usually the viewer won’t pin it down to this reason.

2.  The Location.  Hello?!  You are standing in a bathroom!  “I know the best place to show off my knitting!  Bathrooms just scream beautiful, natural and hand crafted!” said nobody, ever.  Seriously, wake up and smell the…umm…toilets?  Okay, minor rant over. Bathrooms are usually very small (especially in England) which means you will almost always be standing far too close to the mirror (this may also be because you are trying to capture more detail).  Shots that are taken close-up, as opposed to shots that are merely zoomed in, often feel quite claustrophobic to the person looking at them.  It is hard to focus on certain parts of the knitting, and you naturally try to lean back to remedy this (which doesn’t work).  Very few mirrors  are ‘perfect’ mirrors, most of them have imperfections which cause House of Mirrors effects; bits of the knitting are stretched out and some are squashed, etc.  Having the camera that close to the mirror also has the side effect of making the photo fuzzy and out of focus, which again will lose you detail.

3.  The Lighting.  Remember the last time you were in a nightclub or bar and went to the bathroom?  You tip toe around, trying hard not to touch anything lest you have to go boil a finger or two afterwards, go to the wash basin, look up, and then scream at the scary-as-hell face staring back at you.  Every time.  Now, while those bathrooms are designed specifically to cause minor heart attacks, normal clean bathrooms have a similar thing going on.  Since bathrooms are usually white and full of reflective surfaces, overhead bathroom lights have the tendency to be overly bright and not the most flattering.  Remember The First Wives Club?  Remember that hilarious scene when Brett Artounian describes the role he wants middle-aged Elise Elliot to play, when she thinks she’s being cast for the role of the young and stylish Monique?  If not, I give you his stellar (if over-dramatic) description of who he’s casting her as, and what the theatre uses overhead lighting for:

No make-up, overhead lighting…bring out every wrinkle, every crag.  With you in the part – Monique’s mother won’t be just another Jurassic fleshbag in a wheelchair.  She’s epic.

I told you it was dramatic!  But there’s still a shred of truth in that,  the brighter the lights you use, the more likely you are to look like you have an over abundance of crags and wrinkles (no matter how old you are – young ladies take note!)  It will also make you look paler than you really are, and often take on a blue or greenish tone, not the vision of wholesomeness most of us are trying to promote!

The thing that really annoys me about this shot, is that there are so many better ways to take a picture of yourself!  This is exactly what self-timers were invented for, and while they do take some time to set up, the product is much more satisfying.  Think about standing outside and putting the camera on a windowsill/porch railing (see Light above); gardens really do make nice settings for knitwear.  You know, the whole sheep-in-a-field-yarn-in-front-of-a-bush thing, it’s about going back to nature.  Even better would be to wait until you’re with a friend, respective other, or knitting group and get them to take a photo!  Make it a fun thing with your group and I guarantee the pictures will be better for it; they can focus on the way the sweater looks, hold the camera, and get you in the right position.  They’ll also make you laugh, so you will have a genuine and beautiful smile.  Remember, knitting is not a race!  It is much better to post a good picture a few days later than to post a bad one right away.

4 – Get the Basics Right

Hand knits are like works of art – if you don’t have the right canvas, the paint looks like crap.  Sweaters, shawls, shrugs, skirts, socks and any other ‘s’s you can think of need the right base to look their best.  This means: supportive underwear, shirts and pants (or trousers if you’re in the UK) in a complimentary style and colour and appropriate footwear.  It may sound like a pain, but trust me, get these elements right and your knits will look fantastic.

Ok, so the first thing that is often forgotten but easy to fix, is the shape of the clothes you are wearing underneath your knits.  Pay attention to the small things, for example necklines; they are very important in the structure of the knit, and a great design feature!  If your knit has a high neckline, wear a shirt that doesn’t go higher than it at any point (like we did, as you’ll see in a minute).  If your knit has a round neckline, don’t wear a shirt with a square neckline and vice versa.  Other things to look out for that are easy to fix are bunching in the shoulders, conflicting hems, and fit in the waist.  Make sure any shirts, tights or trousers you’re wearing are pulled down, up, and up respectively so that they lie flat.  Look at this photo of Mom’s Tangled Yoke Cardigan.  This was a really difficult shoot since the bright green shirt you can see peeking out  above the neck is both the wrong colour and the wrong style for the sweater.  This is not to say that on a day to day basis it doesn’t work as an outfit – it does!  But for the purpose of the photograph, it isn’t suitable.  Since the shirt is very bright, it overshadows the softer tone of the sweater, and the higher neckline ruins the subtle shaping of the yoke.

One of the great things about the Wearability Wednesday series is that they aren’t photoshoots per se; they are full of photos taken on the spur of the moment while somewhere else for a different purpose.  This means you haven’t always dressed with photos in mind, and need to come up with some creative ways of hiding the fact that you weren’t fully prepared.  On that particular day, we were showing a family friend around one of our favourite National Trust properties, Cliveden, and decided to take a few photos.  This photo worked best.  By raising the shoulders, it accentuated the line of the “tangled yoke” part of the sweater, and covered up the green.  By being at an angle to the sun, the green that isn’t covered up by Mom’s hair, is in the shadows so appears to be significantly less green.  We also kept the sweater buttoned all the way up to hide as much of the shirt as possible!

Ok boys and girls, control your giggles because I am going to talk about underwear.  Yes!  The U-bomb.  Let’s face it, how many times have we seen a great piece of knitting that is ruined by a chronic case of panty-line, or just looks a little…odd…in the top half.  Panty-line is fixed easily: don’t wear underwear that is too small or clothes that are too small, or you could just buy some seamless underwear – they’re an investment.  As for top half difficulties, just follow this golden rule and nothing can go wrong:  boobs should be in the boob portion of the sweater.  Just because little Miss Perky Boobs from next door can pull it off without a bra, doesn’t mean you can too.  Heck, I can’t!  The right underwear will make all the difference.

With regards to complimentary styles, pick an overall look and go for it!  Think about what we did with Audrey.  We picked three completely different looks for one sweater, but we committed to each of them.  Nothing that we wore for any outfit was interchangeable.  Mom couldn’t wear her “work outfit” to a club or hang out and eat a burrito.  Leah couldn’t wear her “casual outfit” to work or a club, and I couldn’t wear my “club outfit” to work or burritoland.  In real life, you could totally wear a work outfit for take out Mexican food, but these photos are all about making a specific point.  And seriously, commit to that look!  If you’ve knit a beautiful skirt and you’ve found the perfect shirt, styled your hair, done your make-up, and put on the right jewellery, don’t ruin it all by putting on some bedroom slippers!  What if you want to take a photo of the entire outfit?!  Don’t go back on all the hard work you put into it by getting lazy at the very last moment.  But also be careful not to overdo it.  If you’ve knit an beautiful brown evening skirt, don’t pair it with your stellar leopard print shirt and brown suede stilettos.  While this would look great on a night out, in your photo, your knitwear should be the “signature piece” of your outfit.  Its like if you’re wearing an absolutely incredible piece of jewellery, or some killer shoes, you do not want the rest of your outfit to overshadow it.  On the flip side, please don’t photograph anything while wearing sweatpants…just don’t.

5 – Take lots of photos

And I mean lots!  Take the final Brick post photos for example.  Do you know how many photos of that I have on my computer at home?!  To provide you, dear reader, with the 12 photos you see of the sweater on that post, I took over 500 shots.  I usually take at least 40 to 50 shots for every one photo that ends up on the blog or Ravelry.  I know people like to throw around the saying “It’s quality, not quantity” but in this case, quantity improves your chances for quality.  That having been said, I don’t mean take 400 pictures of the same thing.  Every single one of my photos is slightly different, the angle, the pose, the exposure, and every once in while you hit that one in a million shot.  Once you have the photos you need, there is also no reason to keep shooting, expect for fun of course!

6 – Last but not least: Smile

Smile!  Whatever you knit, it’s beautiful and you’re proud of it; don’t be afraid to show it!  Smiles are infectious, so if you love it, so will we.  Well, most of us anyway!

Knitting photos should look great.  In fact, they should be good enough that if someone who didn’t know they were meant to be focusing on the the knitting saw it, they would still say “Wow!  That’s a great photo!”  So take your time, pay attention, and enjoy yourself!  And don’t take pictures in bathrooms…

6 thoughts on “Move over Mom!

  1. Emma this post had me LOL’ing! So, so funny….. and sadly, so true! I too, feel the same way about the toilet thing. Come on people, no one wants to see a toilet when they are looking at a gorgeous, hand knit sweater……. or anything for that matter…. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post and LOVE your photographs!

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  4. Hi Emma,

    For the most part I don’t read blogs and rarely, rarely comment. But, here I am commenting. And, if I can find the button, I will even subscribe. When someone talks sense they should be acknowledged! If there is a common sense award it goes to you. Shall we call it the “No Brainer Awards?” Thanks so much for this post. It was a real winner.

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